Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a new infrared laser made from germanium that operates at room temperature, which has made light-speed computing come one step closer to reality.
The research removes the cryogenic cooling systems previously needed for infrared lasers and could lead to powerful computer chips that operate at the speed of light.
“Using a germanium laser as a light source, you could communicate at very high data rates at very low power,” said Jurgen Michel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed the new germanium laser.
“Eventually, you could have the computing power of today’s supercomputers inside a laptop,” he said.
The creation of a new laser, even one based on germanium, is not newsworthy; more than 15,000 different lasers, some of which use germanium, have been created since the 1950s.
What makes this particular germanium laser unique is that it creates an infrared beam at room temperature.
Until now infrared germanium lasers required expensive cryogenic cooling systems to operate. The new germanium laser operates at room temperature.
To create the germanium laser, the scientists take a six-inch, silvery-gray disk of silicon and spray it with a thin film of germanium.
These same disks are actually used to produce chips in today’s computers.
An electrically powered, room-temperature, infrared laser for laptop computers is still years away, however, cautioned Michel.
If and when those laptops do arrive, they will be powerful – more powerful in fact than even today’s supercomputers.
The battery that powers the laptop won’t necessarily last any longer, but the power it does hold will make calculations orders of magnitude faster than today.
“We need high-density, low-power solutions,” said Kock.
Computer chips are constantly getting smaller and smaller, but they are approaching the fundamental limits of electron-based computing.
Light-based computing is one option to improve the speed and power of computers.
“Germanium-based optical computing is an especially attractive material for optical computing because it wouldn’t require any change to the existing computer chip industry,” Kock said.
The same machines that use silicon could also use germanium to make future chips.